The latest weekend of Major League Soccer games saw some of the league’s best teams drop points with less than two months remaining before the playoffs begin.
None of the top three teams in the Western Conference won their games, while FC Cincinnati, the best team in the Eastern Conference and MLS as a whole, lost to Orlando City.
Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Union rebounded from losing to league-worst Toronto FC, and Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami beat the West’s third-placed team, LAFC.
We’ll break down the most compelling stats from an eventful weekend of MLS action.
Soccer isn’t played on paper, and if anyone proves that, it’s Lionel Messi.
The diminutive superstar regularly defies conventional athletic wisdom, and he and his team did so again in their 3-1 away win over Los Angeles FC.
The California side posted 2.1 expected goals (xG) to Miami’s 1.8, but the visitors walked out as winners by a 3-1 scoreline.
LAFC took 22 shots to Miami’s nine. They put the same number of shots on target: six.
The match came down to being clinical in front of goal, and while Messi didn’t find the back of the net with his two shots, he assisted two of the team’s goals.
LAFC forward Denis Bouanga had two scoring chances early in the match, but one was blocked by Miami defender Kamal Miller and the other saved by goalkeeper Drake Callender.
Bouanga did not score on seven shots which added up to 1.2 xG. His number of shots and his xG were the highest of any player in the match.
Miami has the second-shortest odds to win MLS Cup at +600. LAFC has the third-shortest odds for MLS Cup at +900 and the second-shortest odds to win the Western Conference at +250.
Sporting Kansas City, 11th in the Western Conference, won 2-1 against the best team in the West, expansion team St. Louis City.
St. Louis opted to bring their No. 10, Edward Lowen, off the bench at halftime, by which time the score was already 2-1. Plus, St. Louis kept top scorer Nicholas Gioacchini on the bench for the full match.
The leaders in the West made some curious decisions in a match where they mustered just 0.3 xG, showing that their eight total shots were not taken from dangerous positions.
St. Louis could afford to lose the game as they still sit six points ahead of second-placed Seattle. But they need Gioacchini, who has scored 10 goals on 6.9 xG, especially when considering their xG differential is -4.9 on the season.
Perhaps manager Bradley Carnell wants to rest his top scorer for the playoffs, but the numbers show the MLS newcomers are not creating quality chances for shooters less skilled at finishing than Gioacchini.
St. Louis have not created more than 2.0 xG since July 1.
St. Louis is +1100 to win MLS Cup and -150 to win the Western Conference. Sporting KC is +10000 for MLS Cup and +300000 to win the West.
FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Roman Celentano faced one shot on target against Orlando, and he didn’t save it.
That made the difference in the top-of-the-table Eastern Conference clash between first-placed Cincinnati and third-placed Orlando.
Four of Cincinnati’s 13 shots found the target, but Orlando City ‘keeper Pedro Gallese saved them all.
Celentano, the second-overall pick in the 2022 MLS Draft, has seen his goals against average and save percentage improve from last year.
He turns 23 next week, making him one of the youngest starting goalies in the league. While his club will be happy with his progress, they will need him to step up another level to take their regular season form into the MLS Cup Playoffs.
FC Cincinnati has the shortest odds to win MLS Cup at +400 and is -2500 to win the Eastern Conference. Orlando is +1400 for MLS Cup and +2500 to win the Eastern Conference.